However, suicide rates at prisons and jails differ markedly. Prisons are facilities operated by federal and state governments and used for long-term stays, while jails are controlled by sheriffs and local governments.
Suicide is the number one cause of death in jails, at almost 34 percent, while it claims the lives of only 5.5 percent of inmates in prisons, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
That is the question The Des Moines Register in Iowa attempted to answer after Lamont Walls, 38, died by suicide in March at the Polk County Jail. “[A]n analysis… relying on public records, lawsuits and news stories, shows at least 19 Iowa inmates have killed themselves since Jan. 1, 2013. Among them are five state prisoners and 14 county jail inmates, including five who took their lives from October 2015 through April at jails in Jasper, Page, Grundy, Madison and Washington counties,” the paper wrote.
The Register found the reason for these deaths is a lack of mental health facilities in the state and nationwide, and that county officials believe this number will continue to go up rather than decrease. According to the DOJ, the majority of inmates both in prisons and jails have mental health issues.
“The jails are doing the best they can, but this is a mental health crisis, and we’ve got the state shutting down mental health facilities,” said John Godar, president of the Iowa State Sheriffs’ & Deputies’ Association to The Register. “Where do those people go? Jail. And the jails are being tasked to do more than they were ever designed to do,” he added.
Iowa has the fifth-highest number of people dying in jails nationwide, the DOJ reported in August, 2015. The state shut down two mental health facilities that same year, and one prison mental health facility in 2013.